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Profiling Taste-Motivated Segments *
Brian Wansink
University of Illinois
Randall Westgren
University of Illinois
July 23, 2003
Brian Wansink can be contacted at [email protected]
Profiling Taste-Motivated Segments
Early adopters of unfamiliar but nutritious foods can do so because of a combination of
taste-motivations or health-motivations. Because taste can provide an enduring
motivation for dietary change, profiling the taste-motivated segment of a particular food
might prove useful in identifying and stimulating adoption among similar predisposed
segments. This manuscript describes a basic qualitative and quantitative procedure – in
the context of soy consumption – that can be used to begin profiling taste-motivated
segments of a particular food. A survey of 606 North Americans indicates that when
contrasted to health-motivated consumers of soy, taste-motivated consumers were more
likely to claim they are opinion-leaders who live with (or who are) great cooks, and they
were more likely to exhibit other behaviors associated with food appreciation, such as
dining out and wine consumption. In light of these findings, instead of encouraging
people to eat soy solely for health reasons, a more productive method may be to target
those who are more likely to prefer it for taste-motivated reasons. This same method has
potential for more effectively promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables or the
consumption of genetically enhanced foods among predisposed taste-motivated
Key Words: Taste Profiles, taste-motivated, segmentation, soy consumption,
yogurt, wine, fruits and vegetables, genetically enhanced foods
Word Count: 2162 (excluding references and abstract)
Profiling Taste-Motivated Segments
Some portion of the population will adopt an unfamiliar but nutritious food into
their regular diet simply because they believe it is a healthy alternative (Coletta 1999). A
perhaps larger portion will do so only if the taste of this food is preferable to alternatives
(Barnes 1998). To better understand the types of people who have adopted a healthy,
unfamiliar food (Shork 2000), it could be beneficial to specifically profile those who did
so because they like the taste.
In contrast to health-motivated food choices (“I eat it because it’s supposed to be
good for me”), taste-motivated preferences have long been shown to provide an enduring
motivation for dietary change (Gladston 1941). To understand why a person does adopt a
relatively new or unfamiliar food, it is useful to examine, or profile, those who have
already adopted that type of food for taste-motivated reasons. Doing so can help provide
insights that can be used to identify the types of people who are most likely to adopt the
food, and it can provide further insights into how to best encourage such adoption
(Wansink 2004).
The practical consequence of “unlocking” these correlates of taste-motivated
consumption can be seen in the U.S. yogurt industry. In 1978, 7.8% of the population
consumed 75% of yogurt. While most did it as a nutrition-motivated choice (Kepner et
al, 1978), for others the decision was taste-motivated. Based on insights from this tastemotivated segment, companies such as Danone and General Mills (Yoplait) focused
product development strategies around better tasting yogurts. Following this, per capita
consumption doubled in the next decade, and yogurt is now a common food in many
kitchens (Decker, 2001).
With yogurt, it was clear that a taste-motivated segment of yogurt lovers were
responsible for driving innovation, new product introduction, and profitability in the early
years of yogurt’s growth. This taste-motivated segment also largely responsible for the
enthusiasm and the word-of-mouth persuasion that stimulated repeated trial among
similarly predisposed but uninitiated non-users of yogurt.
Today, soy is in a similar situation as yogurt was 30 years ago. Of those few
westerners who do regularly and intentionally consume soy foods, the majority do so
because of its perceived health benefits (Wansink and Chan 2001) not for its taste.
Indeed, the belief that a product contains soy (even when it does not) has been shown to
cause many non-vegetarian Americans to rate the taste of the product as grainy, chalky,
dry, and unappealing (Wansink 2003a), yet to also rate it as “tasting healthy” (Wansink
and Park 2002).
To introduce this notion of taste-motivated segmentation, this study will illustrate
how the personality and behavior profile of a taste-motivated segment of soy consumers
differs from a health-motivated segment and from a segment that does not regularly and
knowingly consume soy.1 Developing these profiles can inform product development
and communication strategies for firms who wish to expand the consumption base for a
One reoccurring issue with a health-motivated segment for any product is that their behavior is
frequently seen as more fickle than those who consume a product for more hedonic reasons such as taste.
What can occur is that when the health risk is no longer a salient concern or when there is another option, a
health-motivated segment will no long consume their “medicine.” This is exacerbated by attribution
motivations which can lead them to attribute themselves to having eaten the food because of health benefits
and not because they enjoyed the food itself.
relatively new or unfamiliar food. More generally, these methods are appropriate for
similar research with other under-consumed products (such as fruits and vegetables) or
those produced or processed with relatively unfamiliar techniques (such as those that
have been genetically altered or those that have been irradiated).
To determine what characteristics might be associated with taste-motivated
preferences for soy, qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted. While standard
constructs and scales have proven useful in helping profile individuals who are
predisposed to specific foods, such as carbohydrate cravings (Christensen and Pettijohn
2001) in most exploratory contexts, these are not available. Potentially insightful
constructs can be obtained from in-depth laddering interviews and focus groups, and
additional insights often be obtained from interviewing experts (such as dieticians) or
“inside sources” (such as gourmet chefs or specialty food store employees).
Qualitative Phase
A qualitative study was first conducted with a convenience sample of 33 people
who had clear preferences for soy foods and who had been recruited through fliers placed
in a health food store, a supermarket, a vegetarian restaurant, and a university cafeteria.
Two focus groups were conducted (8 people each), and in-depth laddering interviews
were conducted with the remaining 17 participants. Each person was paid $20 for his or
her participation. These people were intentially not representative of the general
population because the exploratory purpose was to generate ideas of what clusters of
characteristics might differentiate them from individuals who did not consume soy in the
general population. Given such insights, subsequent quantitative studies could be more
productively conducted with a more representative sample.
The results of this qualitative phase of the research suggested that two general
reasons people evolved from infrequent to frequent consumers of soy foods (excluding
soy dairy substitutes) were because of health-motivated reasons (such as concerns related
to heart disease or to high blood pressure) or because of taste-motivated reasons (they
preferred the taste or texture of soy). Because of the focus on this taste-motivated
segment, subsequent efforts attempted to identify clusters of similarities among them. In
addition to spending more time preparing food and enjoying fine dining, the individuals
in this taste-motivated segment often claimed to be adventurous and to be opinion-leaders
among their peers.
Interestingly, these taste-motivated individuals also frequently indicated that they
would continue to eat soy even if it was not more healthy than a similar alternative. This
is noteworthy because it suggests that these people may consistently consume soy over
the long-term because they do not simply see it as a means to an end (health) but rather as
an end in itself (taste).
Quantitative Phase.
To quantitatively examine these notions, a survey was mailed to a North
American sample obtained through a random nth household selection process from United
States and Canadian phone records. The survey was sent to 1302 adults who were given
a check for $6.00 in exchange for completing the study. Of those mailed surveys, 606
(46.5%) responded in a timely enough manner (eight weeks) to be included in the study
(63% female, average age--43 years old).
Each person was asked two broad types of questions that were directed at
behaviors and characteristics raised in the qualitative portion of the study. The first set of
questions related to how frequently each was involved in specific food-related behaviors
in an average week (Sudman and Wansink 2002). The second set required them to agree
or disagree with a series of personality-related statements (such as “I am traditional,” or
“I am an opinion-leader among my peers”) that were asked on 9-point scales (1=strongly
disagree; 9=strongly agree). The survey instrument had been previously been approved
by the Human Subjects Committee of the Institutional Review Board at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before being mailed, the basic survey instrument was
pilot tested with a group of 132 adults in central Illinois, and it was modified to provide a
confirmatory test of the reliability and validity of its measures.
In analyzing the data, consumers were categorized by whether they indicated they
primarily ate soy foods for health reasons (n=141), for taste reasons (n=55), or did not
intentionally eat soy on at least a twice-a-week basis (n=410).2 This categorization was
determined by using the answers to the 9-point Likert scales regarding why they ate soy
(Cronbach alpha = .93). Of those 196 people who were relatively frequent consumers of
soy (2 or more times a week), 141 could be categorized as eating soy primarily for
health-motivated reasons (71.9%), and 55 could be characterized as eating soy primarily
for taste-motivated reasons (18.1%). While some people ate soy for both taste-motivated
Because the focus was on soy foods, soy-related beverages were not considered in the analysis. In
addition, there were not significant differences between those who indicated they consumed lightly
processed soy (such as tofu) and those who consumed more processed versions (such as soy burgers
or soy-fortified pasta), so both general types of soy products are aggregated for the analyses.
reasons and health-motivated reasons, the more dominate of the two reasons was used to
categorize these individuals. The taste-motivated segment consumed soy an average of
2.4 times each week, compared to the health-motivated segment which consumed it 3.1
times, F(1,195)=3.7; P<.05. Non-soy eaters tended to be an average of 3.4 years older
than the two other segments, and they had 0.6 years less college education.
ANOVAs were conducted across the three groups using gender, age, and
education as covariates. Although these general demographic characteristics have been
shown to influence nutritional awareness and the adoption of health products in past
studies, the focus of this work is in moving past these characteristics to find more
insightful and perhaps actionable characteristics and behaviors of this profiling tastemotivated segments. For this reason, we controlled for these variables in the analysis by
using them as covariates.
As Table 1 indicates, taste-motivated consumers were consistently different than
those who consumed it for health-motivated reasons. This was also in line with the
findings of the qualitative portion of the study. That is, this taste-motivated segment of
consumers was more likely to believe they lived with (or were) a “great cook,” than the
health-motivated segment or the non-soy eating segment, F(2,601) = 19.1, P<.01. In
addition, they rated themselves as less traditional, F(2,601) = 9.8; P<.01, as more
adventurous, F(2,601) = 21.9, P<.01, and as more likely to be an opinion leader, F(2,601)
= 18.3, P<.01).
-------------------------Insert Table 1 Here
In addition to these personality variables, this taste-motivated segment ate
evening meals away from home more frequently than the health-motivated segment and
the non-soy eating segment, F(2,601) = 9.1, P<.01), and they also enjoyed wine with
their meal more frequently, F(2,601) = 7.8, P<.01). Both are consistent with
characteristics that might be expected for people who have an appreciation for a quality
dining experience. Indeed, this segment indicated that they were more “appreciative of
fine food” compared to the other two segments, F(2,601) = 47.2, P<.01).
Giving further support to these results are similar findings that showed this was
consistent with Indians and Pakistanis who also consumed soy for taste-motivated
reasons (Wansink and Cheong 2002). When compared to a demographically similar
health-motivated segment, these taste-motivated individuals were more likely to claim
they lived with (or were) great cooks and that they were more appreciative of fine food.
In addition, they too were more likely to dine out and drink wine at dinner than those who
consumed it mainly for health-motivated reasons.
Many well-intended efforts to change the nutrition-related behaviors of people
have had disappointing results. Fifty years ago, the disappointments were with efforts to
encourage organ meat consumption in the protein-deficient rationing years of World War
II (Wansink 2002). Fifty years later, the disappointments have been with efforts to
encourage increased soy and fruit and vegetable consumption in a calorie-rich but
nutrient-deficient dietary environment.
One exception to these disappointments is the success of yogurt. Yet even with
yogurt, it is not clear that it would have become a popular food if taste-motivated
segments had not been identified, understood, and nurtured 30 years ago. Doing so
allowed the targeting of new product development strategies and more focused
communication efforts that dramatically expanded its popularity and acceptance.
While many efforts to change nutrition-related behaviors are directed toward a
general population, this study suggests three important conclusions. First, there are some
individuals or segments that are more predisposed to changing their consumption
behavior in a desired direction than others. Therefore, instead of encouraging all people
to eat a food (such as soy) for health-motivated reasons, a more effective method may be
to target the types of people who are more likely to prefer it for taste-motivated reasons.
People who adopt foods for taste-motivated reasons may be more apt to continue with
these dietary changes than those who simply do so as a “means to an end” for health
reasons (Shork 2000). Indeed, part of the importance of the finding that this tastemotivated segment claims to live with (or claim to be) “great cooks” is that the in-home
exposure to a new food is likely to be more favorably received than if an average or
below average cook was responsible for the household’s food preparation. Furthermore,
consistently favorable repeated exposure to this food should reinforce preferences in a
way that more highly varied taste experiences may not.
Second, targeting a taste-oriented segment of consumers can seed potential
opinion-leaders who may eventually pass these dietary habits on to others either directly
through “word-of-mouth” communication or indirectly through contagion. Who are
these taste-predisposed segments? In the case of soy, they are most likely to live in a
household with a good cook (generally them or their spouse) and to exhibit behaviors
associated with food appreciation, such as dining out and wine consumption. These
correlations are not necessarily causal, however, they give us an important insight into
who can most effectively be targeted for at least the initial phases of a campaign focused
on increasing soy consumption. Moreover, persons who fit this profile of adventuresome
seekers of dining experiences can be reached even more effectively through the
burgeoning print and electronic media that are dedicated to nutrition and fine dining.
Third, good cooks are food gatekeepers for their families. They not only largely
determine what in-home food is eaten by family members, but their talent also helps to
facilitate the acceptance of foods they do serve (Wansink 2002). Given this gatekeeping
role, efforts to encourage the adoption of relatively new or unfamiliar foods – whether
they be yogurt in 1974 or soy in 2004 – would be more effective if directed at them than
at less proficient or less influential cooks). While recent efforts have shown that these
cooks can be divided into different sub-segments based on their personality, their
cooking-related behaviors, and their preferred foods (Wansink 2003b), the next steps
should be to examine which of these sub-segments is most predisposed to experimenting
with and adopting relatively new or unfamiliar foods.
While people who eat soy for taste-motivated reasons do not necessarily eat soy
as frequently as those who do so for health-motivated reasons, they may be – in the long
run – the more loyal and consistent consumers of it. In effect, instead of consuming soy
as a means to an end they consume it as an end it itself.
This study was made possible by support from the Illinois Council for Food and
Agricultural Research and from the Functional Foods for Health program at the
University of Illinois. Thanks also to Jae-hak Cheong for his analysis of the data in Table
Barnes, S. (1998), Evolution of the health benefits of soy isoflavones, Proceedings of The
Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 217(3), 386-392.
Christensen L., & Pettijohn L (2001), Mood and carbohydrate cravings, Appetite,
Coletta, F. A. (1999), Road map for functional foods: Central Challenge and Major
Priorities, Nutrition Today, 34 (4), 166-169.
Decker, K.J. (2001), The dominant culture: Yogurt for the masses, Food Product Design,
Gladston, I. (1941), Motivation in health education, Journal of The American Dietetic
Association, 25, 745-751.
Kepner, K.W., Knutson, R.D., & Nichols, J.P. (1978), Yogurt, frozen yogurt (soft serve),
and hard frozen yogurt marketing profile, American Cultured Dairy Products
Institute, Washington, D.C.
Shork, D. (2000), A matter of taste: How Soyaworld captured 60% of the dairy
alternative market, Marketing (Maclean Hunter), 105 (20), 14.
Sudman, S. & Wansink, B. (2002) Consumer Panels, Chicago, IL: AMA.
Sweeny, M. (1942), “Changing food habits,” Journal of Home Economics, 34
(September), 457-462.
Wansink, B. (2004), Marketing Nutrition, University of Illinois Press: Champaign, IL.
Wansink, B. (2003), “Profiling nutritional gatekeepers: three methods for differentiating
influential cooks,” Food Quality and Preference, 14:4 (June), 289-297.
Wansink, B. (2003), Overcoming the Taste Stigma of Soy, Journal of Food Science, 75:3,
Wansink, B. (2002), Changing eating habits on the home front: Lost lessons from World
War II research,” Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 21:1 (Spring), 90-99.
Wansink, B. & Cheong, J. (2002), Taste profiles that correlate with soy consumption in
developing countries, Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 1:6, 276-278.
Wansink, B. & Park, S.B. (2002), “Sensory suggestiveness and labeling: do soy labels
bias taste?” Journal of Sensory Studies, 17:5 (November), 483-491.
Wansink, B. (2000), “New techniques to generate key marketing insights,” Marketing
Research, (Summer), 28-36.
Table 1
Taste and Behavior Profiles Associated with Soy Consumers1
Soy Consumer Segments
Segment (d.f.=2,601)
I live with (or am) a great cook
I am traditional
I appreciate fine food
In general, I am an adventurous person
I believe that I eat healthier than most
I am an opinion-leader among my peers
Number of evening meals eaten away from
home during the average week
Number of evening meals with which you drink
wine during the average week
Number of evening meals in which you eat a
soy-related food during the average week
Questions are measured on 9-point scales (1=Strongly Disgree; 9=Strongly Agree)
* p<0.01
Brian Wansink is the Julian Simon Memorial Scholar and Professor of Nutritional
Science, of Business Administration, and of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and
of at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- 350 Wohlers Hall, University of
Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820, 217-244-0208, [email protected] Randall Westgren is
Associate Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Sciences at the University of Illinois.
This study was made possible by support from the Illinois Council for Agricultural
Research and from the Functional Foods for Health program at the University of Illinois
for their support of this project.